EU Agricultural Mission to Japan highlights interest in consumer demographics, organic markets and retail innovation

This week Meros’ Managing Director Chisa Ogura presented on Japanese consumer food trends to delegates of the High Level EU Agricultural Mission to Japan led by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. There were over 70 delegates, including agricultural industry reps, SMEs and farmers from throughout the EU, all looking to understand how the new EU-Japan EPA can benefit food and agricultural trade between the EU and Japan.

It was a full house and we got great questions from the delegates on organic trends (especially in wine and beef), the impact of demographic changes and the notoriously fast turnover in new retail products.

Japanese consumers now spend more on bread than rice, more on meat than seafood and more on wine than sake, with cheese and yogurt consumption growing rapidly. This brings many potential opportunities for EU food and agriculture to develop new business in Japan.

Nevertheless, to successfully build a business in Japan, careful understanding of the characteristics of the Japan market is of course critical. For example, one area of interest to delegates was the fact that while countries like Denmark (227€ annual per capita spending), Germany (116€ per capita) and France (101€ per cap) have booming organic markets, consumer interest in organic products has been slow to catch on in Japan (only 8€ per capita).

The price premium for organic is relatively small in Japan, compared to some of its Asian neighbors, where organic products can command an extremely high price premium. Japanese consumers also tend to be convinced that domestic conventionally grown agricultural products are already safe and healthy and are less willing to pay a premium for organic certified products. In addition, organic agriculture is difficult in wet and humid Japan and this has resulted in fewer Japanese companies producing, promoting and educating on organic practices. While EU organic products are welcome in Japan, more of the burden for promotion and consumer education will fall on the EU side.

Other consumer trends that Meros highlighted included the Japanese consumer expectation for constant relaunches and limited editions of retail food and beverage products, which contrasts with many EU exporters’ focus on classic and authenticity, rather than innovation.  Not only is this seasonal packaging an issue, but urban Japanese consumers tend to bring their groceries home by hand or in a bicycle basket, to a kitchen with extremely limited storage space. Responsiveness to these Japanese consumer lifestyle realities can greatly improve EU exporters’ marketing and promotion strategies.